It is interesting to find a weather forecast of this storm. The old Hebrew prophets were close students of national and world-wide weather conditions, and much given to making forecasts of impending storms. Even in the New Testament there is this distinct prophetic or foretelling strain running throughout. The father of John the Baptist is told of his son's birth; and Mary, of the unusual birth of her divine Son. The disciples are told of the coming of the Holy Spirit. And Agabus tells of a great famine coming. In these instances the fulfilment follows soon after the event is foretold.
The destruction of Jerusalem, foretold by Christ, had at least a part of its fulfilment in the terrible Titus siege of 70 a.d. Our Lord said that He would return to earth in great glory, and that there would come a great tribulation to all the earth, and repeated the old prophecy of a restoration of the Hebrew kingdom. These have not yet occurred.
But the book of the Revelation is distinctively the prophetic book of the New Testament. It deals almost entirely with events that are yet to come. It would be natural that it would fit into the prophetic parts of the Old Testament. So that one who is somewhat familiar with the prophetic books of the Old naturally comes more intelligently to this prophetic book of the New.
It is true that most of us have a sense of bewilderment about prophecy. We seem to feel that it requires great scholarship and profound study, and that an understanding of it is not possible to the common run of Christians. And so we largely leave it out as not understandable.
Yet prophecy is simply God's plans for the future, together with a revelation of other events which are not in His plan, but which He sees will happen in the future. In it He tells us what He means us to understand. And more than this, our understanding will have practical bearing on our attitude toward evil and compromise. It will affect our faith, making it steadier, especially when evil seems triumphant and overbearing. It will make our prayer more intelligent and confident.
There are certain things we all know. As we read back into these pages we know that the break-up of the Jewish nation, which began with the Babylonian Captivity, came to a terrible climax in a complete break-up after the rejection of Christ. We know that the other nations commonly called Gentiles (i.e., the nations) have had supremacy in the earth. Israel was at one time acknowledged as the great world power, with many subject nations, in Solomon's time.
But Gentile supremacy begins back in the time of these Old Testament pages. There is to-day practically no belief that this will ever be changed, except perhaps by a stray Jew here and there, who still holds to his old Bible, and except by those Christians who discern God's plan, and believe both in Him and in it.
In the absence of an understanding of that plan of God, it has been common to apply all the glowing prophetic Hebrew promises to the Church. The result has been that Israel and the Kingdom have been confused in our minds with the Church. And this has become the commonplace in the common Church consciousness.
It is quite possible for the person of average good sense to get something of a simple, broad grasp of the prophetic books. It involves reading repeatedly so as to get familiar with the contents, and rapidly so as not to get too much absorbed in details.
It is needful to use a common-sense interpretation in getting at the meaning. It is a simple law that one principle of interpretation should be applied uniformly and consistently to all parts of any one document. If I say arbitrarily, "this part is rhetorical; it doesn't mean just what it says, but something else; and this other part means just what it says," clearly I am reading my own ideas and prejudices into the book.
It is much slower, and takes more pains and patience, to keep at it until all parts gradually clear up to us, first this bit, then that, until part fits part, and all hang together. But there is great fascination in it, and one's reverence for this revelation of God's Word grows deeper.
Of course there is rhetorical language here as everywhere. "The Lord is my shepherd" is clearly rhetorical. For God is not a shepherd, and I am not a sheep, but a man. But under this simple, clearly rhetorical language the tender, personal relationship God bears to me is beautifully expressed. That such language is rhetorical is clear to every mind alike.
And there is a picture language here, such as speaking of purity of character as "white garments." The honest, earnest, unprejudiced seeker after truth quickly recognizes these, and learns to become skilled in discerning what is meant. We come to see that Israel means Israel, not the Church. Jerusalem means that city in Judea, and so on.
Of course it is needful that there be an openmindedness, a humble, teachable spirit, willing to accept the real truth, no matter how it may shake up one's prejudices and prearranged schemes of thought. And, above all, there should be a constant prayerfulness of spirit, to learn just what our God is seeking to have us know. Of course there are depths here for the scholarly, profound minds. But we ordinary folk can get a simple, clear grasp of God's plan and revealed insight into the future if we go at it in this thoughtful, prayerful way. And it will be a great help to us to do so.